Protecting consumers and ensuring gambling advertising is responsible

An interesting article about gambling advertising by Dr Mark Griffiths appears in the Winter 2019 edition of Online Gambling Focus, published by the European Gaming & Betting Association.

It is introduced as follows by Maarten Haijer, the Secretary General of EGBA:

With several countries adopting new measures related to gambling advertising over the past year, it seems appropriate that advertising should be the topic for this Winter edition of our Online Gambling Focus newsletter.

As well as enabling companies to highlight their products and offers to potential or existing customers, a major benefit of gambling advertising is that it directs consumers towards those gambling operators who are licensed in a given EU country. For online gambling companies, advertising is particularly important because it is the only way they can inform consumers about their existence and products.

Without advertising, consumers would be more susceptible to unreliable and dubious search engine results which direct them to play on gambling websites which are potentially wholly unregulated. This could leave them exposed to potentially very risky situations, including a lack of player support, consumer protection and zero legal recourse whenever they have a dispute with such websites.

Having said that, there are risks that advertising exposes minors and other vulnerable groups
to gambling. That’s why we strongly support measures to clamp down on irresponsible gambling advertising to protect all consumers, including these vulnerable groups.

The challenge is how to strike the right balance: allowing advertising which is responsible, sufficiently directs betting consumers to the regulated gambling websites and does not entice problem gamblers or young people to gamble.

For ease of reading purposes, we set out below the entire text of Dr Griffiths’ article:

Protecting consumers and ensuring gambling advertising is responsible: A brief overview

by Dr. Mark Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Over the past decade, there has been a great deal of speculation over the role of advertising and marketing as a possible stimulus to increased gambling, and as a contributor to problem gambling (including underage gambling).

The biggest concerns appear to be:

  1. the impact of gambling advertising on consumers (particularly minors and problem gamblers),
  2. the volume of gambling advertising (given the large increase in exposure of gambling advertising to individuals across many platforms including social media),
  3. the content of gambling advertising (e.g., glamorous images of beautiful people used to sell gambling, the unrealistic or misleading claims and ‘get rich quick’ slogans made in gambling adverts [e.g. “Winning is easy”], the idea that individuals are the ones in control in sports betting adverts), and
  4. normalization and cultural acceptance of gambling by constant gambling advertising exposure.

These are issues that need to be addressed by both gambling regulators and advertising regulators based on the research evidence within their jurisdictions.

However, the empirical research base (while increasing) is arguably limited. While research has found that there is a large public awareness of gambling advertising, and that problem gamblers often mention advertising as a trigger to gambling, there is no definitive evidence that gambling advertising causes gambling problems. While there has been a significant increase of gambling advertising via social media, little is known about the varying effects (if any) of different advertising mediums on gambling behaviour (for instance, the impact of television gambling advertising versus social media gambling advertising on subsequent gambling behaviour). The effects may differ due to factors such as age of the individual watching the advert or the type of gambling advertising, but as yet, nothing is known about such effects.

It has also been claimed that many gambling adverts denigrate the values of hard work, initiative, responsibility, perseverance, optimism, investing for the future, and even education. Those promoting gambling products typically respond in a number of ways. The most popular arguments used to defend such marketing and advertising is that: (1) the gaming industry is in the business of selling fantasies and dreams, (2) consumers know the claims are excessive, (3) big claims are made to catch people’s attention, (4) people don’t really believe these advertisements, and (5) business advertising is not there to emphasize ‘negative’ aspects of products. While some of these industry responses have some merit, a much fairer balance is needed.

Statements such as “winning is easy” are most likely (in a legal sense) considered to be ‘puffery’. Puffery involves making exaggerated statements of opinion (not fact) to attract attention. Various jurisdictions deem it is not misleading or deceptive to engage in puffery. Whether a statement is puffery will depend on the circumstances. A claim is less likely to be puffery if its accuracy can be assessed. The use of a claim such as winning is easy” is likely to be considered puffery because it is subjective and cannot be assessed for accuracy. However, a statement like “five chances to win a million euro” are not puffery because it is verifiable and measurable.

Gambling advertising appears to play an important role in ‘normalizing’ gambling. Content analyses of gambling adverts have reported that gambling is portrayed as a normal, enjoyable form of entertainment involving fun and excitement. The likelihood of large financial gain is often a central theme, with gambling also viewed as a way to escape day-to-day pressures.

Personally, I believe that gambling advertising should focus on buying entertainment rather than winning money. Gambling problems often occur when an individual’s primary reason to gamble is to win money. Quite clearly it is appropriate and necessary for the gaming industry to advertise, market, and promote its facilities and products. However, I believe that all advertising and marketing should be carried out in a socially responsible manner, as it is good for long-term repeat business.

So how can this be done? For me, a responsible gambling advertising and marketing policy should: (1) prohibit any advertising that is overly aggressive, (2) reject concepts liable to incite the interest of minors and problem gamblers, (3) prohibit the use of spokespeople who are popular among youth, (4) prohibit placement of advertisements within media viewed mainly by minors, (5) highlight the probability of winning, (6) not target any particular group or community and exploit their cultural beliefs about gambling for the purposes of promoting gambling, (7) prohibit or condone gambling in the workplace, (8) adhere to national and international advertising regulation bodies and codes of practice, and (9) not send gambling advertising to individuals who have voluntarily excluded themselves from gambling.

Further reading:

  • Binde, P. (2014). Gambling advertising: A critical research review. London: Responsible Gambling Trust
  • Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Gambling advertising, responsible gambling, and problem gambling: A brief overview. Casino and Gaming International, 27, 57-60
  • Griffiths, M.D., Estévez, A., Guerrero-Solé F. & Lopez-Gonzalez, H. (2018). A brief overview of online sports betting advertising and marketing. Casino and Gaming International, 33, 51-55
  • Hanss, D., Mentzoni, R.A., Griffiths, M.D., & Pallesen, S. (2015). The impact of gambling advertising: Problem gamblers report stronger impacts on involvement, knowledge, and awareness than recreational gamblers. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 29, 483-491
  • Planzer, S. & Wardle, H. (2012). What we know about the impact of advertising on disordered gambling. European Journal of Risk Regulation, 3(4), 588-594.
You can download below the entire Winter 2019 edition of Online Gambling Focus, that also includes an article by William Fenton, from the European Sponsorship Association (ESA), who gives his perspective on the role of sponsorship of sports

Download article PDF: Online-Gambling-Focus-Winter-2019